Monday, June 5, 2017


Weekend Roundup

These weekend posts are killing me. I didn't even make it through my tabs this time -- nothing from Alternet, the New Yorker, Salon, TruthOut, Washington Monthly, nor much of what I was tipped off to from Twitter. Just one piece on the upcoming UK elections, which would be major if Jeffrey Corbyn and Labour pull an upset. Just a couple links on Israel, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of their great military land grab in 1967, which is to say 50 years of their unjust and often cruel occupation. A couple of uncommented links on the problems Democrats face getting out of their own heads and into the minds of the voters. And only a mere sampling of the Trump's administration's penchant for graft and violence. Just an incredible amount of crap to wade through.


Big story this week was Trump's decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate change deal, joining Nicaragua and Syria as the only nations on record as unwilling to cooperate in the struggle to keep greenhouse gases from pushing global temperatures to record highs. One might well criticize the Paris accords for not going far enough, but unlike the previous Kyoto agreement this one brought key developing nations like China and India into the fold.

Here are some pertinent links:

  • Vicki Arroyo: The US is the biggest loser on the planet thanks to Trump's calamitous act:

    The Paris agreement was a groundbreaking deal that allowed each country to decide its own contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Even though it is non-binding, the agreement puts the world on the path to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2C, which scientists warn would be disastrous for our planet.

    By abandoning the agreement, we are not only ceding global leadership but also effectively renouncing our global citizenship. The US is joining Nicaragua (which felt the agreement did not go far enough) and Syria (in the midst of a devastating civil war) as the only nations without a seat at the Paris table. As an American, I am embarrassed and ashamed of this abdication of our responsibility, especially since the US has been the world's largest contributor of carbon emissions over time. We have become a rogue nation.

  • Perry Bacon Jr/Harry Enten: Was Trump's Paris Exit Good Politics? They look at a lot of polling numbers, and conclude it was fine with the Republican base, but unpopular overall. Key numbers:

    Only a third of Republicans rate protecting the environment from the effects of energy production as a top priority. Polling from Gallup further indicates that 85 percent of Republicans don't think that global warming will pose a serious threat in their lifetime. Education was a major dividing line in the 2016 election, but Republicans of all education levels think the effects of global warming are exaggerated. . . .

    An overwhelming majority of Democrats (87 percent) and a clear majority of independents (61 percent) wanted the U.S. to stay in the climate agreement, according to a poll that was released in April and conducted jointly by Politico and Harvard's School of Public Health. Overall, 62 percent of Americans wanted the U.S. to remain part of the accord (among Republicans, 56 percent favored withdrawal). . . .

    It's also possible that Trump gave a win to his base on an issue they don't care that much about while angering the opposition on an issue they do care about. Gallup and Pew Research Center polls indicate that global warming and fighting climate change have become higher priorities for Democrats over the past year.

    As of this writing, 538's "How Popular Is Donald Trump?" is at 55.1% Disapprove, 38.9% Approve, so down a small bit since the announcement.

  • Daniel B Baer, et al: Why Abandoning Paris Is a Disaster for America:

    The president's justifications for leaving the agreement are also just plain wrong.

    First, contrary to the president's assertions, America's hands are not tied and its sovereignty is not compromised by the Paris climate pact. The Paris agreement is an accord, not a treaty, which means it's voluntary. The genius (and reality) of the Paris agreement is that it requires no particular policies at all -- nor are the emissions targets that countries committed to legally binding. Trump admitted as much in the Rose Garden, referring to the accord's "nonbinding" nature. If the president genuinely thinks America's targets are too onerous, he can simply adjust them (although we believe it would be shortsighted for the administration to do so). There is no need to exit the Paris accord in search of a "better deal." Given the voluntary nature of the agreement, pulling out of the Paris deal in a fit of pique is an empty gesture, unless that gesture is meant to be a slap in the face to every single U.S. ally and partner in the world.

    The second big lie is that the Paris agreement will be a job killer. In fact, it will help the United States capture more 21st-century jobs. That is why dozens of U.S. corporate leaders, including many on the president's own advisory council, urged him not to quit the agreement. As a letter sent to the White House by ExxonMobil put it, the agreement represents an "effective framework for addressing the risk of climate change," and the United States is "well positioned to compete" under the terms of the deal.

    Action on climate and economic growth go hand in hand, and are mutually reinforcing. That is why twice as much money was invested worldwide in renewables last year as in fossil fuels, and why China is pouring in billions to try to win this market of the future. A bipartisan group of retired admirals and generals on the CNA Military Advisory Board is about to release a report that will also spell out the importance of competitiveness in advanced energy technologies -- not just to the economy, but also to the country's standing in the world. Pulling out of climate will result in a loss of U.S. jobs and knock the United States off its perch as a global leader in innovation in a quickly changing global economic climate.

    The article especially harps on "Trump is abdicating U.S. leadership and inviting China to fill the void." As you may recall, China pretty much torpedoed the Kyoto accords in the 1990s by insisting on building their burgeoning economy on their vast coal reserves, but lately they've decided to leave most of their coal in the ground, so agreeing to the Paris accords was practically a no-brainer. The same shift has actually been occurring in the US, admittedly with Obama's encouragement but more and more it's driven by economics, even without anything like a carbon tax to factor in the externalities. And unless Trump comes up with a massive program to subsidize coal use, it's hard to see that changing, and even then not significantly.

    Another point they make: "Pulling out of Paris means Republicans own climate catastrophes." Over the last several decades, we've all seen evidence both of climate drift and even more so of freakish extreme weather events, and the latter often trigger recognition of the former, even when they are simply freakish. But also, despite the popularity of Reagan's "I'm from the government and I'm here to help" joke, when disaster strikes, no one really believes that. Rather, they look immediately (and precisely) at the government for relief, and they get real upset when it's not forthcoming, even more so when it's botched (e.g., Katrina).

  • Coral Davenport/Eric Lipton: How GOP Leaders Came to View Climate Science as Fake Science: Trump's decision shows how completely his mind has been captured by a propaganda campaign orchestrated by "fossil fuel industry players, most notably Charles D. and David H. Koch, the Kansas-based billionaires who run a chain of refineries (which can process 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day) as well as a subsidiary that owns or operates 4,000 miles of pipelines that move crude oil." The Kochs run Americans for Prosperity, perhaps the single most effective right-wing political organization (e.g., they've been critical in flipping Wisconsin and Michigan for Trump). One of their major initiatives has been to get Republicans they back to sign their "No Climate Tax Pledge," which appears here:

    Americans for Prosperity is launching an initiative to draw a line in the sand declaring that climate change legislation will not be used to fund a dramatic expansion in the size and scope of government. If you oppose unrestrained growth in government at taxpayer's expense and hidden under the guise of environmental political correctness, then sign the pledge at the bottom of this page and return it to our office, or visit our website at www.noclimatetax.com.

    Regardless of which approach to the climate issue you favor, we should be able to agree that any climate-change policy should be revenue neutral. Revenue neutrality requires using all new revenues generated by a climate tax, cap-and-trade, or regulatory program, dollar for dollar, to cut taxes. There must also be a guarantee that climate policies remain revenue neutral over time. . . .

    Any major increase in federal revenue should be debated openly on its merits. We therefore encourage you to pledge to the American people that you will oppose any effort to hide a revenue increase in a feel-good environmental bill.

    Thus they ignore any substantive environmental impacts while tying the hands of lawmakers, preventing the people from using government to do anything for our collective benefit. That's one prong of their attack. Denying climate science is another, and a third is their long-term effort to undermine collective efforts through international organizations -- a complete about-face from the 1940s when the US championed the UN and the Bretton-Woods organizations as a way of opening the world up and making it more hospitable to American business. Back then Americans understood that they'd have to give as well as take, and that we as well as they would benefit from cooperation. That's all over now, thanks to the right-wing propaganda effort, itself based on the premise that dominant powers (like corporate rulers) can impose dictates to mold their minions to their purposes.

    When I opened the opinion page in the Wichita Eagle today, I found an op-ed piece, Withdrawing from Paris accord is a smart decision by Trump. The contents were total bullshit. And the author, Nicolas Loris, was identified is "the Morgan Research Fellow in Energy and Environmental Policy at The Heritage Foundation."

    By the way, the Eagle's other op-ed was by Sen. Jerry Moran: A strong national defense also means a strong economy, which was almost exclusively taking credit for some work on the B-21 ("the world's most advanced stealth bomber") will be done in Spirit's Wichita plant. Evidently no problem with spending precious taxpayer money to better threaten a world that Trump has clearly shown nothing but contempt for.

  • Geoff Dembicki: The Convenient Disappearance of Climate Change Denial in China: "From Western plot to party line, how China embraced climate science to become a green-energy powerhouse." The transition seems to have occurred in 2011, when the leadership stopped publishing tracts decrying climate change as a Western plot and started investing heavily in renewables. One thing that helped tip the balance was air pollution in Chinese cities. Another was a purge of corrupt managers in the oil industry.

    Shortly after Donald Trump won the presidency, Xi told him in a call that China will continue fighting climate change "whatever the circumstances." Though the new U.S. president has staffed his administration with skeptics such as Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, China released data suggesting it could meet its 2030 Paris targets a decade early. "The financial elites I talk with," Shih said, "they think that the fact that the Trump presidency has so obviously withdrawn from any global effort to try to limit greenhouse gases provides China with an opportunity to take leadership."

    The paths both countries are taking couldn't be more divergent. While Trump rescinded Obama's Clean Power Plan with a promise to end America's "war on coal," China aims to close 800 million tons of coal capacity by 2020. The U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy is facing a budget cut of more than 50 percent when China is pouring over $361 billion into renewable energy. All this "is likely to widen China's global leadership in industries of the future," concluded a recent report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

  • Michael Grunwald: Why Trump Actually Pulled Out of Paris: "It wasn't because of the climate, or to help American business. He needed to troll the world -- and this was his best shot so far."

    No, Trump's abrupt withdrawal from this carefully crafted multilateral compromise was a diplomatic and political slap: It was about extending a middle finger to the world, while reminding his base that he shares its resentments of fancy-pants elites and smarty-pants scientists and tree-hugging squishes who look down on real Americans who drill for oil and dig for coal. He was thrusting the United States into the role of global renegade, rejecting not only the scientific consensus about climate but the international consensus for action, joining only Syria and Nicaragua (which wanted an even greener deal) in refusing to help the community of nations address a planetary problem. Congress doesn't seem willing to pay for Trump's border wall -- and Mexico certainly isn't -- so rejecting the Paris deal was an easier way to express his Fortress America themes without having to pass legislation. . . .

    The entire debate over Paris has twisted Republicans in knots. They used to argue against climate action in the U.S. by pointing out that it wouldn't bind China and other developing-world emitters; then they argued that Paris wouldn't really bind the developing world, either, but somehow would bind the United States. In fact, China is doing its part, dramatically winding down a coal boom that could have doomed the planet, frenetically investing in zero-carbon energy. And it will probably continue to do its part even though the president of the United States is volunteering for the role of climate pariah. It's quite likely that the United States will continue to do its part as well, because no matter what climate policies he thinks will make America great again, Trump can't make renewables expensive again or coal economical again or electric vehicles nonexistent again. California just set a target of 100 percent renewable energy by 2045, and many U.S. cities and corporations have set even more ambitious goals for shrinking their carbon footprints. Trump can't do much about that, either.

  • Mark Hertsgaard: Donald Trump's Withdrawal From the Paris Accords Is a Crime Against Humanity; also Sasha Abramsky: Trump Echoes Hitler in His Speech Withdrawing From the Paris Climate Accord.

  • Zachary Karabell: We've Always Been America First: "Donald Trump is just ripping off the mask."

    Also cites l David Frum: The Death Knell for America's Global Leadership. Frum was actually talking more about Trump's refusal to commit to Article 5 of the NATO treaty, but the two go hand-in-hand. Karabell also wrote: Pay attention to Donald Trump's actions, not his words.

  • Naomi Klein: Climate Change Is a People's Shock: Long piece, prefigured by her 2014 book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Also includes a link to Chris Hayes' 2014 piece The New Abolitionism, about "forcing fossil fuel companies to give up at least $10 trillion in wealth" (by leaving that much carbon in the ground).

  • Tom McCarthy: 'Outmoded, irrelevant vision': Pittsburghers reject Trump's pledge: "The president said he was exiting the Paris climate deal on behalf of Pittsburgh -- but his view of the environmentally minded city is off by decades, residents say." Also: Lauren Gambino: Pittsburgh fires back at Trump: we stand with Paris, not you; and Lucia Graves: Why Trump's attempt to pit Pittsburgh against Paris is absurd.

  • Daniel Politi: John Kerry: Trump Plan for Better Climate Deal Is Like OJ Search for "Real Killer"

  • Joseph Stiglitz: Trump's reneging on Paris climate deal turns the US into a rogue state

  • Hiroko Tabuchi/Henry Fountain: Bucking Trump, These Cities, States and Companies Commit to Paris Accord

  • Katy Waldman: We the Victims: "Trump's Paris accord speech projected his own psychological issues all over the American people."

  • Ben White/Annie Karni: America's CEOs fall out of love with Trump: An amusing side story is that several corporate bigwigs have started to distance themselves from Trump, especially over the decision to pull out of the Paris climate accords. As the US evolves from hegemonic superpower to tantrum-prone bully, laughing stock, and rogue state, America's global capitalists have ever more to disclaim and apologize for, and it won't help them to be seen as too close to Trump. On the other hand:

    Trump regularly touts himself as a strongly pro-business president focused on creating jobs and speeding up economic growth. But both of those depend in part on corporate confidence in the administration's ability to deliver on taxes and regulation changes. . . .

    One corporate executive noted that Trump is often swayed by the last person he talks to, so, the executive said, remaining in the president's good graces and keeping up access is critical. The senior lobbyist noted that next week is supposed to be focused on changing financial regulations with the House expected to pass a bill rolling back much of the Dodd-Frank law and Treasury slated to release a report on changing financial laws.

    One problem here is that so many of the things corporations and financiers want from Trump come at each other's expense, Thus far, Republicans have been remarkably sanguine about letting business after business rip each other (and everyone else) off, because few businesses look at the costs they incur, least of all externalities like air and water, but those costs add up. For instance, one reason American manufacturing is at a disadvantage compared to other wealthy countries is the exorbitant cost of health care and education, and making up the difference by depressing wages isn't a real solution. There are corporations that love Trump's Paris decision -- ok, the only one I'm actually sure of is Peabody Coal -- but they're actually few and far between. Most don't care much either way, or won't until the bills come due.

    By the way, this piece also includes this gem:

    From a purely political perspective, the distancing of corporate CEOs may not be especially bad for Trump. He won as a populist railing against corporate influence, specifically singling out Goldman Sachs.

    Since the election, he has continued to single out Goldman Sachs: he's tapped more of their executives for key administration jobs than any other business.

  • Richard Wolffe: Trump asked when the world will start laughing at the US. It already is

  • Paul Woodward: Trump believes money comes first -- he doesn't care about climate change

Plus more on the Trump administration's continuing looting and destruction:

  • Daniel Altman: If Anyone Can Bankrupt the United States, Trump Can

  • Bruce Bartlett: Donald Trump's incompetence is a problem. His staff should intervene: The author is a conservative who worked in the White House for Reagan and Bush I, though he was less pleased with Bush II. Still, his prescriptions hardly go beyond what was standard practice for Reagan: "He should let his staff draft statements for him and let them go through the normal vetting process, including fact-checking. And he must resist the temptation to tweet or talk off the top of his head about policy issues, and work through the normal process used by every previous president." Of course, what made that work for Reagan was that he was used to being a corporate spokesman before he became president -- after all, he worked for GE, and he was an actor by trade. Trump has done a bit of acting too, but he's always fancied himself as the boss man, and bosses in America are turning into a bunch of little emperors. On the other hand, Reagan's staff were selected by the real powers behind the throne to do jobs, including keeping the spokesman in line. Trump's staff is something altogether different: a bunch of cronies and toadies, whose principal job seems to be to flatter their leader. And that's left them sadly deficient in the competencies previous White House staff required -- in some cases even more so than the president himself.

  • Jamelle Bouie: What We Have Unleashed: "This year's string of brutal hate crimes is intrinsically connected to the rise of Trump."

  • Juliet Eilperin/Emma Brown/Darryl Fears: Trump administration plans to minimize civil rights efforts in agencies

  • Robert Faturechi: Tom Price Bought Drug Stocks. Then He Pushed Pharma's Agenda in Australia

  • David A Graham: The Panic President: "Rarely does a leader in a liberal democracy embrace, let alone foment, fear. But that's exactly what Donald Trump did in response to attacks in London, as he has done before." Graham starts by showing how London mayor Sadiq Khan responded to the attack, then plunges into Trump's tweetstorm. Also see: Peter Beinart: Why Trump Criticized a London Under Attack; and David Frum: What Trump Doesn't Understand About Gun Control in Great Britain.

  • Matthew Haag: Texas Lawmaker Threatens to Shoot Colleague After Reporting Protesters to ICE

  • Whitney Kassel/Loren De Jonge Schulman: Donald Trump's Great Patriotic Purge: "The administration's assault on experts, bureaucrats, and functionaries who make this country work isn't just foolish, it's suicidal." The most basic difference between Republicans and Democrats is how they view the government bureaucracy: Republicans tend to view everything government does as political, so they insist on loyalists consistent with their political views; Democrats, on the other hand, see civil servants loyal only to the laws that created their jobs. Republicans since Nixon have periodically tried to purge government, but those instincts have never before been so naked as with Trump, nor has the Republican agenda ever before been so narrow, corrupt, or politically opportunistic. Moreover, instilling incompetency doesn't seem to have any downside for Republicans, as they've long claimed that government is useless (except for lobbyists).

    In a signature theme of its first 100 days, the Trump administration, encouraged by conservative media outlets, has launched an assault on civil servants the likes of which should have gone out of style in the McCarthy era. Attacks on their credibility, motivations, future employment, and basic missions have become standard fare for White House press briefings and initiatives. In doing so, the administration and its backers may be crippling their legacy from the start by casting away the experts and implementers who not only make the executive agenda real but provide critical services for ordinary Americans. But in a move that should trouble all regardless of political affiliation, they also run the risk of undermining fundamental democratic principles of American governance.

    Searching for policy-based or political rationale for these moves overlooks a key point: that the United States civil service can be an enormous asset for presidential administrations regardless of party, and undermining it belies a misunderstanding of what public servants actually do. These good folks, the vast majority of whom do not live in Washington, get up in the morning to cut social security checks, maintain aircraft carriers, treat veterans, guard the border, find Osama bin Laden, and yes, work hard to protect the president and make his policies look good. Many of them earn less than they would in the private sector and are deeply committed to serving the American people. Any effort to undercut them is irrational on its face.

  • Mark Mazzetti/Matthew Rosenberg/Charlie Savage: Trump Administration Returns Copies of Report on CIA Torture to Congress

  • Daniel Politi: Democratic Challenger to Iowa Lawmaker Abandons Race Due to Death Threats

  • CIA Names the 'Dark Prince' to Run Iran Operations, Signaling a Tougher Stance: Michael D'Andrea.

  • Rebecca Solnit: The Loneliness of Donald Trump: "On the corrosive privilege of the most mocked man in the world." She cites a Pushkin fable on green, and is surely not the first to apply F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic line to Trump: "They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made." She goes on, adding to the mocking of "the most mocked man in the world":

    The American buffoon's commands were disobeyed, his secrets leaked at such a rate his office resembled the fountains at Versailles or maybe just a sieve (this spring there was an extraordinary piece in the Washington Post with thirty anonymous sources), his agenda was undermined even by a minority party that was not supposed to have much in the way of power, the judiciary kept suspending his executive orders, and scandals erupted like boils and sores. Instead of the dictator of the little demimondes of beauty pageants, casinos, luxury condominiums, fake universities offering fake educations with real debt, fake reality tv in which he was master of the fake fate of others, an arbiter of all worth and meaning, he became fortune's fool.

    Still, if someone made him read this, he would surely respond, "but I'm president, and you aren't." And while he goes about his day "making America great again," he gives cover to a crew that is driving the country into a ravine. When they succeed, all this mockery will seem unduly soft and peculiarly sympathetic. On the other hand, I suspect that treating Trump and the Republicans as badly as they deserve will provoke a kneejerk reaction to defend them. Even now, the scolds are searching hard for instances where they can argue that satire has crossed hypothetical boundaries; e.g., Callum Borchers: Maher, Griffin, Colbert: Anti-Trump comedians are having a really bad moment. I found the Griffin image amusing -- not unsettling like the first time I saw an image of one person holding up the severed head of another, because this time the head was clearly fake and symbolic. The other two were jokes that misfired, partly because they used impolite terms but mostly because they made little sense. That's an occupational hazard -- no comedian ever hits all the time -- but singling these failures out reveals more about the PC squeamishness of the complainers. (Where were these people when Obama was being slandered? Or were they just overwhelmed?) And note that Maher is often a fountain of Islamophobic bigotry, but that's not what he's being called out for here.

  • Lisa Song: Trump Administration Says It Isn't Anti-Science as It Seeks to Slash EPA Science Office

  • John Wagner: Trump plans week-long focus on infrastructure, starting with privatizing air traffic control: During his campaign one of Trump's most popular talking points was on the nation's need for massive investment in infrastructure. After the election, Democrats saw infrastructure investment as one area where they could work with Trump, but as with health care the devil's in the details. Since he took office, it's become clear that Trump's infrastructure program will be nothing but scams fueling private profit with public debt.

    It's worth noting that the scam for "privatizing" air traffic control has been kicking around for years, backed by big airlines, but it's very unpopular here in Kansas because it portends higher charges to general aviation users. That should cost Trump two votes, so his only hope of passing the deal is to pick up Democrats, who should know better.

  • Paul Woodward: Donald Trump plays at being president. He doesn't even pretend to be a world leader:

    At this stage in his performance -- this act in The Trump Show which masquerades as a presidency -- it should be clear to the audience that the motives of the man-child acting out in front of the world are much more emotive than ideological.

    Trump has far more interest in antagonizing his critics than pleasing his base.

    No doubt Trump came back from Europe believing that after suffering insults, he would get the last laugh. A senior White House official (sounding like Steve Bannon) described European disappointment about Trump's decision on Paris as "a secondary benefit," implying perhaps that the primary benefit would be the demolition of one of the key successes of his nemesis, Barack Obama.

    Thus far, The Trump Show has largely been ritual designed to symbolically purge America of Obama's influence.

  • Matthew Yglesias: Trump has granted more lobbyist waivers in 4 months than Obama did in 8 years; also by Yglesias: An incredibly telling thing Trump said at today's Paris event wasn't about climate at all ("He simply has no idea what he's talking about on any subject"); and Jared Kushner is the domino Trump can least afford to fall in the Russia investigation ("His unique lack of qualification for office makes him uniquely valuable").

And finally a few more links on various stories one or more steps removed from the Trump disaster: